In the Scrub Oaks

The smell reminds me of her. I watch the leaves of the scrub oaks shimmer in the wind as I crouch among them. My boots sink softly into the leaf-covered dirt as I listen to the sound of the wind through the leaves, the waves of a distant sea. She used to come out here and gather firewood with us, my mother; I remember her gloves sitting by my father’s on the shelf next to the front door of our house. They were smaller but just as worn. Her clothes would smell like the dirt and the leaves when she pulled me in for a hug as we sang Christmas songs on the way home in our old red pick-up. She used to laugh that the jangling of the truck was our own band accompaniment as we bumped over the washboard of the dirt and gravel road. My father would smile and laugh and sing the baritone of the song while her voice rang out in alto and mine in soprano; our family choir’s melody wafted out into the forest, christening this place, blessing it. I miss her. Her hair was so long when I was a child that, when she bent down to kiss me in the morning before school, it would drape over my up-turned face, a silky blanket smelling of her shampoo and of her: cucumber and wood-smoke.

“I love you, Jason,” she would croon; the sound of her words wrings in my ears. I feel the hot wetness on my face and realize that I am crying. The crack of my voice makes me jump as it rasps against the silence of the woods: “I hate you,” I yell, a warrior on the block waiting for the guillotine screaming for freedom, and a wind tears through the oaks whipping my hair. I collapse.

My eyes open suddenly and I feel a tingle in my spine; I fell asleep. The sun is sinking slowly and the air is cooling, but I just lie in the dirt, in the smell, in the scrub oaks.

“I just want to know that she is okay,” I say softly, giving up. I hear a crinkle of leaves directly in front of me, and I focus, looking for what made the sound, not moving. Then I see her; she peeks out from behind a branch ten feet from me and looks into my eyes. Her hair is a magnificent bronze, as the light catches it. A halo around her head, she is glowing. I freeze; I stop breathing. The golden brown of her irises penetrate me. Her breath creates little puffs of clouds as she breathes out, but she does not move either. I find myself thinking: “Is she okay?” The fox begins to walk toward me and her whole body comes into view; she stands taller. I hear my mother’s voice again in my ears, something that she used to tell me at night before I went to bed as a child: “Jasey, I love you more than the moon and the stars, and if I’m ever not with you I’m still in your heart.”  My breath expels with spit and tears, “Mom, I miss you so much,” my voice cracking. The fox doesn’t move, but breathes softly. Calmness comes over me; I feel like my mother heard me then, and I am suddenly at peace. I sit up slowly, crossing my legs and look at the fox, amazed that she doesn’t run away.

“Goodbye, Mom, I love you too,” I say to the fox, and she swishes her tail and yelps and turns and runs swiftly away into the bush, gone in seconds.

The sky is darkening quickly now and the wind penetrates my Carhartt icily. I get up and stretch my sore legs and back. I stick my hands in my pockets remembering that Mom bought me this jacket right before I started high school four months ago. I snug it around me and hope that it will always fit, a substitute for her arms, for her love. I look up at the darkening sky once more and let my mind quiet, thinking of her face.

“See ya later Mom.”

 

-Rachel Boschen

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